Wednesday, December 28, 2005

The Mousehole Cat

That darn cat!

I gave myself a Christmas present this year in the form of a video (no DVD, apparently) of a children's story called The Mousehole Cat.

The film is based on a book by Antonia Barber and it features fabulous animation and lovely narration by the talented British actress Sian Phillips.

I've seen it about four times now and I cry my eyes out every time. It's amazing how such a short simple story can have such a powerful impact on me, but maybe that's the answer: it's short, it's simple, and it's honest.

Hell, I cry at a lot of movies. That's not news. There are still few scenes from It's A Wonderful Life that still get me and there's The Big Parade, a silent war epic that has some very touching scenes, and then City Lights, my God, City Lights, with its final image, I can flood a whole theater with my tears.

But this particular film has got its claws into me and it won't let go. And I don't want to be released from its magic.

The story takes place in a small English fishing village called "Mousehole" and it's told through the point of view of a mature lady cat, Mowzer, who lives with an old fisherman.

In Mowzer's view, the old fisherman is her pet, and he's very good at feeding her and scratching her behind the ear just the way she likes it. Everything is fine until one year around Christmas when a terrible storm batters the entire coast.

To Mowzer, the huge tempest is a Storm Cat, lashing at the little town with its high winds that serve as claws. While the Storm Cat can't get at the villagers' boats, the villagers can't get out of the harbor to go fishing.

The town starts running out of food and Mowzer's pet sailor decides that since he's old and his children are all grown, he should go out into the storm and try to catch a load of fish for the town--or die trying.

In the scene that always kills me, Mowzer decides that she has no one in her life but the old sailor and that she will join him on his dangerous voyage. (Damn it, I'm crying as I write this! Arrrh, I hate that!)

Sing, Kitty, Sing

The scene is so simple and beautiful I can't help but get teary-eyed. Even when I try to prepare myself and say, ok, here it comes, brace yourself, it doesn't work.

I don't want to say much more about the story, but there's a great scene where Mowzer faces the Storm Cat and begins to sing. The first time I saw the film I thought she'd screech like cats do, but since it's told from the cat's point of view, a woman's beautiful voice comes out of her and fills the air.

I know it sounds crazy, but it works. And it kills me, too. I find myself laughing at how strange it looks and yet crying at how lovely it is.

I tease my sister (the cat lover!) about this scene, claiming there's all kinds of sexual undertones in Mowzer's confrontation with the Storm Cat. But that's just me acting foolish and trying to hide my strong reaction to this movie behind silly jokes.

I called this weeping condition "Mom's Revenge." My mother used to cry at just about every sad scene that came out of the TV--movies, tragic news stories, even commercials.

Whenever some touching scene appeared on the TV, we'd invariably turn toward Mom to see if she was crying. Then we'd needle her, like we'd caught her doing something wrong. The truth is we "caught" her being human.

Now she's gone and I've got the crying bug. I guess she's looking down at me and saying, you see, this is what it's like.

I suppose it's not very "manly" to weep like this, but I make no claims to being a macho knuckle-walker. I like this side of my personality. It makes me feel more alive and the day I stop crying at movies, TV shows, etc. is the day I've lost all traces of my heart.

I watched my video last night while no else was around to see me wail my way through a box of tissues. Next week I promised to bring the tape over to my aunt's place so she, my sister, and I can watch it together. I've already warned them that it's going to get rather damp around me, but I suspect they'll be joining me in the emotional overload.

I've decided that I'm going to use this film in my search for a wife. If a woman can witness me fall to pieces every time I watch this cartoon and not run out the door in disgust, then she's the one to marry.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

So This Is Christmas...

I think my sister said it best as she was going out the door tonight: "We did it."

She was referring to the Christmas dinner she and I hosted earlier in the evening for about a dozen friends and relatives.

This holiday had a very special meeting to us since it was the first time we held a Christmas dinner at our home in four or five years.

My mother died in July 2002, and she had been in a nursing home for a long time prior to that, so we didn't do anything at home. No tree, no decorations, and certainly no guests.

After she died we held family get-togethers on Christmas, but always at a restaurants because, as I've mentioned previously, my sister and I dreaded the thought of looking at our mother's empty chair while we tried to conduct a celebration.

But this year our father is a bit frail and I think we're a little stronger. So we catered the whole thing, roped in the usual suspects, as my mother used to call our relatives, and had an old fashioned Christmas.

We even bought a tree, which we decorated on Friday night, and it looks fabulous, if I do say so myself.

Right now I am exhausted, too tired to sleep, and I can barely move from all the food I've consumed. But, like my sister said, we did it.

The Ghost of Christmas Past

In my mind Christmas and my mother are inseparable. She put so much into the holiday each year. Buying all of her four children presents, getting all the food, and then cooking her lasagna for a house full of hungry people.

She was always nervous that the lasagna wouldn't come out right, and she'd do a variation on Mrs. Cratchit from Scrooge, saying "I shan't be happy until the pudding is eaten." And her lasagna was so delicious you'd be ready to swap your presents for one more serving.

I didn't appreciate just how hard she worked until today, as my sister and I sat close by the kitchen to get up and get more food and drinks for our guests. And we didn't do any cooking at all and I did all my shopping online.

When I think of my poor mother, a small, fragile woman who was never in the best of health, fighting the mobs at the department stores in downtown Brooklyn and then coming home to start cooking, I just go numb.

She worked so hard and all I could think about when I was a kid was getting presents. Now I have some idea of what you went through, mom, and I surely do appreciate it.

My father used to take care of getting the Christmas tree. No artifical trees, for us, of course, and he always got the biggest tree he could find, so big, in fact, he usually had to saw the top off of them so they could fit in the living room.

And during a time when my parents' marriage was on the rocks--my mother would always refer to that period as "The Troubles"--our tree that year seemed to reflect the dismal state of our holiday.

If I remember correctly, our father didn't buy a tree, so it was up to me and my brothers to do it. We came home with a bedraggled reject that had one branch sticking way out from the trunk.

As one my oldest brother's friends said, the tree looked like it was signaling to make a left turn.

God Bless Us All

Growing up, Scrooge was the definitive Christmas movie. Channel 9 used to show it twice a day for a week on the old Million Dollar Movie program.

My sister, two brothers and I watched it so many times we had it memorized and then we took to performing the entire for our parents. We each had to play several parts, and, as the youngest, I played Tiny Tim.

Of course, as a child, Christmas is all about presents. I mean, the peace on earth stuff is great, but any normal kid wants to see what's under the tree with his name on it.

I think my favorite all-time present was a board game called Green Ghost--honestly--that my brother and I wanted so badly we could hardly think of anything else.

On that one Christmas morning we saw this huge box, like a child's coffin, all wrapped and waiting for us beneath the tree. My brother and I patiently opened all the other gifts, the shirts, the books, and whatever, all the while eyeballing that big, long box.

Finally, my father said we could open it, and the two of us tore at that wrapping paper like starved dobermans on raw steak. I recall my dad telling us to calm down, but I don't think it helped. We wanted to play Green Ghost.

As I look back, I realize it was a pretty crappy game. You played in the dark with these luminous pieces and this revolving plastic ghost who also glowed when you turned the lights out.

This was before the age of educational toys, when kids just played for laughs and parents were happy for a break. And while I think you'd could live your whole life without Green Ghost and be perfectly happy, the game is apparently highly sought after by hardcore toy collectors.

Jesus, who knew? Now I have yet another reason to clean up the cellar. Maybe I'll strike it rich on the nostalgia circuit.

And This is For You

My job on Christmas morning was to hand out the presents. I don't know how that got started, but it goes back as far as I can remember. I gave each member of the family one of their presents, picked up one with my name on it, and then, like the start of the Kentucky Derby, we all ripped at the wrapping paper.

My father insisted we keep a large plastic garbage bag nearby so the brightly colored trash could be easily managed. He was trying to prevent total anarchy but it didn't go beyond the first present. After that it was just mayhem, with paper flying in all directions, the dog bouncing off the four walls, and voices saying things like "oh, look what I got!" and "thank you so much!"

Each year my mother would ask us what we wanted as a special gift; something for our soul, she'd say. And most years she delivered the goods or told us why it didn't happen and take care of us later. On those occassions we'd get a wrapped index card with a crudely drawn image of the missing gift across the front of it. It was like an IOU from the North Pole.

My mother always that she had treated her four children equally and every year I'd tease her by counting one of siblings' gifts and saying, "hey, he got six presents and I only got five."

She'd get all upset and say she tried to make sure we all got the same amount of gifts. Poor Mom, she fell for it every time. Her heart was so big she couldn't stand the idea of any one of us feeling shortchanged.

All is Calm, All is Bright

I think I had my most spiritual Christmas experience a few years ago while my mother was in a nursing home.

Obviously having a loved one, especially your mother, in the hospital on Christmas Day is not pleasant, but I was determined to make the best of it.

Now I had this strange attitude about Manhattan. As a Brooklyn native there's a part of me that's obsessed with "the City" as they say in the outer boroughs--what goes on there, why can't I live there instead being out here in the sticks?

Earlier that week I was riding the crosstown bus through Central Park. As I looked at Tavern on the Green, all lit up and ready for the holiday, I kept thinking how great it would be to live around here in some fabulous apartment overlooking the park and have a real Manhattan Christmas, whatever that meant.

Well, meanwhile I was heading to a nursing home in Staten Island. As my mother was resting in her room, my sister and I went to the top floor where the nursing home was holding a holiday party for those seniors who, unlike my mom, could get up there.

At one point an older black man sat down at the piano and began singing "Silent Night" with great florish and, as everyone joined in, I realized this was the closest I had ever gotten to the true meaning of Christmas.

It wasn't presents, it wasn't tons of food, it was being together with the people you love the most. I wouldn't have learned that lesson going to Tavern on the Green.

There's a scene in Scrooge where a poor old Irish lady who, despite having nothing to her name, brightens up when Scrooge's former fiancee tends to her.

"Cut me throat," she declares emphatically, "slice me liver right down the line, this is the happiest Christmas I've ever had."

Keeping Christmas

I reprised my role as the giver of gifts today and it came back me, just like riding a bicycle.

I missed my mom, of course. The dinner was good, but it could never compare to her lasagna. At this time reflective time of the year, I see that I have not accomplished a lot of the goals I set for myself, and I was so lonely on Christmas Eve I just wanted to go to bed and hide under the covers until April.

But just one year ago at this time I was unemployed and sick as a dog. Last Christmas Eve I had to get up at 7 a.m. and walk through the murky streets to the one doctor in Bay Ridge who had hours on the day before Christmas. I was depressed, sick, and miserable.

So at least things have improved since then. In the new year I'll make an effort to find someone, so that when next Christmas Eve comes around I won't be sitting in front of the TV by myself watching old Sergio Leone videos.

I realize now the holidays are meant to be a struggle. For years I'd say I want a smooth holiday season, but that's like asking for a gentle earthquake. There's no such animal.

After the guests left, my sister and I sat down to watch Scrooge for the first time since my mom died. And got through it without falling apart.

Yes, my mom is gone, but I see now that she is not just empty chair. She lives within every inch of this house and in every part of my life. I thank God for the time I had with her and I will take the goodness she showed me over the years and spread it wherever I go.

Merry Christmas, happy New Year, happy holidays, and may God us bless all, every one.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

All Aboard!

All right, the transit strike is officially over. Now what?

It looks like the folks that have to get here on Christmas Day can use the trains, as opposed to roller blades and hang gliders.

And I can enjoy the sites in New York during the holidays without having to walk through the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel to see them.

I know this strike crippled the city and I honestly think this was not the best path for the union to take, but by the same token they were fighting for some important issues and the MTA, as I've mentioned before, needs a complete overhaul.

I heard some reporters from the Village Voice on the radio today and they pretty much said this privately run government agency (huh?) is the crony capital of New York, the place where the well-connected install their slow-witted cousins and then run like hell.

We've got Mike "The Working Class Billionaire" Bloomberg and George "Thinks He's Presidential" Pataki talking tough. And that right wing rag of newpaper the New York Post was doing its best to rile up anti-union sentiment, running a photo of their front page today with the transit union president behind bars. Thanks, Rupert. Why don't you go hug the third rail now?

Sorry About That, Comrade

I've been working from home since the strike began and while it felt a little strange, I was getting the hang of it. I was so lucky that I didn't have to walk for hours in the freezing cold like so many others had to do.

It was going fairly well until today when I couldn't contact my boss. I sent him e-mails, I called him at home and at work, and I even sent him a story. Nothing.

Finally I call another editor and find out that my boss is off until Tuesday and no one thought to tell me. Okay, I think I can handle that.

I remember a Soviet cosmonaut years ago who stayed up in space way beyond his scheduled time because the Iron Curtain was coming down and no one remembered to bring the poor bugger back to earth.

I think I know how he felt.

I hate to be paranoid, but I've developed a real talent for it. Plus I've only been at this place a few months and already I'm taking several days off next week because I lose 'em if I don't use 'em. I'm concerned it's going to be "Rob, who?" when I finally do get back the office.

While this is going on, the new basement windows that I had wanted installed finally arrived and two guys came over to put them in. The old windows were falling apart and we were leaking heat out of the house something fierce.

Everything seemed to be going okay until one of the men came in the house and said rather nonchalantly "do you know you have a rat in the basement?" the way some people ask "do you know the way to San Jose?"

There Arose Such A Clatter

Let me explain. We're not dirty people, honestly. It's just this is an old house, we've got a ton of crap in the basement that needs to be tossed out and we don't have the vast number of cats around here that we used to. (See The Cat's Pajamas).

I thought we had mice so I put some poison down there a few weeks ago and after it stopped disappearing I figured I bumped off them all off. Now I find it ain't mice and they ain't dead.

We've got company coming over here on Christmas Day--welcomed company that is, unlike these furry bastards downstairs. But it's always like this, some catastrophe happens before a major holiday or vacation, the absolute worst time for this stuff to hit the fan. I'm actually used to it by now.

I hauled my butt to the local hardware store and stocked up on rat traps and poison. The owner took one look at my purchases and said "good hunting" like I was going after lions in Tanzania. I think I'd prefer lions to rats. They're cleaner and it's much tougher for them to hide in the basement.

My dad's home healthcare aid told me rats love peanut butter so I stopped at the corner deli to pick up a jar of this slop, something I haven't done since grammar school.

I was actually reaching for the low fat brand of peanut butter when it occurred to me that I really wasn't concerned about the rats' cholesterol level.

If anything I'd like to see them all keel over from heart failure. Save me a lot of time, money and trouble. I ditched the healthy stuff and reached for some cheap ass brand I never heard of. These little dirt bags don't deserve Skippy.

You know, we've made so many incredible advances in technology over the years, it's kind of amazing that the old school rat trap hasn't changed much. It's still a crude killing machine that can do a number on your fingers if you're not careful.

So How's This Thing Work?

I figured by this time there would be ditigal innards, laser beams and all sorts of funky stuff, but no, this is the same medieval nasty spring device that showed up to inflict all sorts of pain in the old Three Stooges shorts.

So I'm in my basement with these white Mickey Mouse work gloves on because the rats won't even approach the trap if the get a whiff of humanity.

I'm putting peanut butter on cotton balls and I hear myself singing this godawful holiday ditty "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree" by a Brenda Lee, a howling, rabid, cross-eyed dog of a song if ever there was one.

I think I heard it on a car radio as I came back from the hardware store and it took root in my memory cells, like all truly hideous songs do. Thank God it wasn't "Mamasita, Donde Esta Santa Claus" or I would have put my face in the rat trap and hit the switch. (Gee, I wish I hadn't mentioned that song...)

It was a kind of strange scene down there in the basement, with me planning the violent death of one of God's creatures while singing a Christmas tune. I think there was a similar scene in "It's A Wonderful Life" but it got edited out.

The basement has been mined. In the next two days I have to help my sister pick up a Christmas tree, decorations, the food, dessert, and soda for the Christmas dinner, entertain a herd of friends and relatives and pray I still have a job when it's all over.

And, as Maxwell Smart used to say, loving it.

All right now, boys and girls, now put on your white gloves, grab some peanut butter and sing along with me: "Rockin' around the Christmas tree at the Christmas party hop..."

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Train Wreck

I can't believe this is happening.

For the first time in 25 years, New York City has been hit with a transit strike--with just five days till Christmas. It's freezing cold and I am hearing reports of people walking over the Brooklyn Bridge.

I can only thank God that my company is allowing me to work from home, though I'd feel a little better if I heard from someone at the office. I just called now and the phone rang 20 times before I hung up.

From what I hear on the news reports, people seem to be coping, at least for the moment. As this strike wears on, though, our nerves will be tested.

I hate this nonsense. I can't believe the idiots on both sides of the table are leaving 7 million people on the hook like this. I have always supported labor unions and I always will, but this is not the way to win popular support.

I save my true contempt, though, for the MTA, an organization that nearly rivals the mafia in its secret deals and illegal operations. It is a blend of a private corporation and a municipal agency that brings out the worst of both.

The MTA must be demolished, its members must be banished to Tierra del Fuego, and then we'll do it right this time.

And then, of course, there's George Pataki. What can be said about this walking empty suit? He's a bonehead, an incompentent, a Republican lap dog who will let the people of New York City walk themselves to death before he'll even think about helping them? Why, yes, to all of the above.

This schmuck actually thinks he has a shot at the White House, so while his flunkies were at that bargaining table, our gutless governor was bouncing all over the map trying to drum up support for a presidential run. If ego were brains he'd be a Phd.

This strike brings back bad memories for me. It makes me think of New York in the Seventies, when the city was a graffiti-covered hellhole, with crime in the streets, garbage piled up on every corner and a different city service going out on strike every other week.

As a kid I remember seeing an editorial cartoon in the Daily News that put labor leader Victor Gotbaum's head on the body of an octopus that was choking the life out of the city. No one ever said the News was subtle.

You Talkin' to Me?

It's the kind of material Neil Simon used in his plays, only it wasn't very funny if you had to live in the middle of it. I hated that New York. I was younger then, confused and angry, and I felt so small and vulnerable. New York was the butt of jokes on the Tonight Show and it seemed like we were going to sink in a tide of filth and blood.

It was the world of Travis Bickle, the psychotic star of Taxi Driver, which I recently watch again on DVD. The memories of that old New York made my blood run cold.

Things started to pick up in the Eighties and when I moved back here in the Nineties, I could barely recognize the place. Times Square, Times Square, was actually a tourist destination. That was unthinkable back in the Seventies, when it was hookers, pimps, and junkies ruling the crossroads of the world.

I remember one time while I was in college walking through there on a Sunday afternoon and seeing a brawl break out at a three-card monte game.

A middle-aged white guy thought he had been cheated and, as he chased after one black guy, another stepped out of the crowd and bashed the angry white male across the ribs with a large umbrella.

The white guy spun around when he got hit, but he didn't seem to be hurting that much. He stood out in the middle of the street in broad daylight and shouted "I'll fuckin' kill ya!" at one or both of the black guys. It was sign of utter lawlessness that was shocking, but not terribly surprising.

And that's back in the day when Grand Central Terminal, my favorite New York location, was a huge marble toilet. On a winter night mobs of homeless people would skulk around hustling for change while everybody else got on or off their trains and got the hell out of there.

Today, Grand Central is tourist spot in its own right. There are restaurants and shops and you don't feel like your life is in danger if you walk in five minutes after rush hour ends.

Oh, God, I don't want to go back to those old days. I don't want the rest of the country to walk away from New York, thinking that we can't manage this city.

Please, everybody, let's end this thing and get New York back on track.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Rail World

And so now we face another deadline.

A threat of a transit has been hovering over New York for the last few days like a huge storm system.

There were rumblings earlier in the month, but the harsh winds of rhetoric intensified on both sides of the bargaining table as the deadline drew nearer.

Friday was supposed to be the official deadline for a system-wide strike and I was bidding farewell to my co-workers and gym buddies on Thursday as if I were moving to New Zealand. See you tomorrow, unless there's a strike, and then, well...who knows?

But the union held back, pushing the deadline for the whole transit system until Tuesday, or as I like to call it, the day after tomorrow.

If nothing happens tonight, the union will shut down private bus lines in Queens, thus sending a shot over the bow of management while keeping on the right side of the anti-strike laws for municipal workers.

I think I speak for the entire commuting population when I say this sucks. Christmas is one week away, the town is full of people who plan on seeing shows, staying at hotels, and eating at restaurants.

Working for the Man

I barely remember the last transit strike, which was in April 1980. I was in my last year at Hunter College, but I don't think I went to class for the entire 11 days the strike was on. I seem to recall my brother taking a bike to his job in Manhattan for the duration, since tele-commuting was something out of Star Wars back then.

Without a transit system, we're screwed. While I worked out an arrangement with my boss to work from home, a staggering amount of people have no such option and come Tuesday, if this strike happens, they will be in big trouble.

I know the feeling. Three years ago, when we were in the exact same situation, I was working as a consultant (aka "temp") at Goldman Sachs.

There was no way I could do the job from home and if I didn't get to the office, I didn't get paid. I was in such a state, I didn't what the hell to do. All I knew was I had to get to work, but I had no idea how to do it.

That strike was averted at the last minute, but the city had apparently commandeered several ferries from New Jersey to carry workers to the financial district. A New York Post reporter interviewed me on the pier about how I felt about this near-strike while a photographer took my picture.

That was a strange feeling for me, being interviewed, after so many years on the other side of the notepad and I didn't like it all that much. Still I was somewhat disappointed when they failed to run my photo. Yet another reason to hate the Post.

All Ashore Who's Going Ashore

I had been taking a free ferry from the pier at 59th Street to downtown Manhattan. The service had been started after 9/11 to take the pressure off the transit system and each morning I'd sail toward the city and try not to look at that horrible gap in the sky.

That was such a nice way of getting to Manhattan, and as my dad likes to say, the price was right. No screeching brakes, no sudden lurches, pitch black tunnels or unruly mobs of commuters.

It was a gentle ride across the water where you never got jostled and you always got a seat. You could read, sleep, or just look at the city going by and pretend you were sailing down the Amazon. I never missed the subways back then.

But I'll miss them this time. We're planning a big Christmas dinner at our home this year, the first time we've had a Christmas at home since my mother died in 2002.And I know I sound like a spoiled kid, but I want it to be perfect. That's all I ask. We've got the food ordered, the people have all been invited and at least two of them won't be able to get here if we have a strike.

So, yes, I will miss the damn subways. I'll miss the foul smells, lousy service, endless crowds and unintelligble announcements. I'll miss the last minute route changes, the surly staff, the jabbering loonies, and the loudmouths who have to bellow their business like fishmongers even though most subway cars offer a fairly quiet ride.

It's like an abusive relationship. I feel so helpless, knowing the fate of millions rests in the hands of some first class twits. We hate the subways, but we can't live without them. And, to be brutally honest, it's still the best way of getting around the city.

So, people, please. Let's not do this. At least not at Christmas.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Elfin Liars

And now the news from the front.

No, I'm not talking about the war in Iraq. Who cares about all those American soldiers and Iraqi civilians who died for George Bush's lies and who will have a lot of company before this mess is sorted out?

I'm talking about the war on Christmas.

Each year right wing blowhards trot out this tiresome mythology about how Christmas is being push into the shadows by the godless liberals, political correctoids, secular humanists, and, of course, the gays. I made up that last one, but I'm sure they'll want to blame the queers for this, too.

It's become a yearly event, this holiday charade, and it as welcome as a cheap fruitcake.

Look, they shriek, look how store employees are being told to say "happy holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas." Look at how Christmas trees are being called "holiday trees," how religious ceremonies and decorations are being banned from public buildings. It's the end of all that is decent and good in our society.

It's also a crock of rancid eggnog. Demagogues like Bill O'Reilly, John Gibson and the rest of those bums from Pox News are stirring up all these foul emotions just as a power grab, as a way of keeping themselves in front of the cameras while peddling their lame little screeds.

The hatred coming out of some of these psychos is nothing short of appalling. These pious Bible-beaters maintain this is a Christian country and anyone who doesn't like it, too bad.

My, can't you just hear Jesus talking like that? Prince of Peace my ass, this is my birthday, bee-atch, and you're gonna throw me a mad bang or you're all going straight to hell.

This country was founded on the idea of the separation of church and state. Now with the anal orifice in the oval office, the creationist, the intelligent designers and, yes, Virgina, the Christmas Commandos are making their move.

I was saying "have a good holiday" back in high school when I was 13 years old. No one told me to do this; no one had to. I had come from a Catholic grammar school and as soon I got to a public high school, I instinctively knew not to say "Merry Christmas" to my fellow students because they weren't all Christians.They were my friends and I respected their feelings.

And it didn't bother me. Worship any way you want, or not at all if that's your belief. It's your thing, do want you wanna do.

But not anymore. I wonder if these schmucks realize you don't get too many converts by ramming religion down people's throats. It's hard for people to see the light when you're choking them to death.

Jesus Says Buy Something

And the infuriating thing is that there really is a war on Christmas, but it's got nothing to do with chain stores employees saying "happy holidays." It's coming out of the TV in the form of these awful commercials that mutilate Christmas carols and turn them in jingles for everything from SUV's to laxatives.

So the "12 Days of Christmas" is now a Honda jingle that ends with the line "happy Honda-days." Where's Bill O'Weenie now? Got nothing to say about this? Children will hear these commercials and they won't know the songs as treasured Christmas carols. They'll think of them as jingles.

Santa Claus, Ebenezer Scrooge, even Tiny Tim have been dragooned into the commercial corps. I'm waiting for Baby Jesus to join the chorus.

Jesus says follow the Star of your nearest Toyota dealer for the best sales of the season. It makes frankin-sense to me!

My nominee for most hateful holiday ad is those stupid Lexus commercials where people are giving each other brand new cards like they were candy canes, complete with a big red bow. Oh, yeah, everyone I know gives away cars at Christmas. I mean, how else can you honor the birth of Jesus?

I've always wanted to shoot an underground version of this ad, with the same stupid music, the same smiling idiots, the same bogus winter setting. Only this time the car is being towed way while the debt-ridden dimwits chase after it on foot.

Nothing will change, of course. We'll have these awful, offensive ads until the polar ice caps melt. (Hey, are you talking about that global warming crap?!?) It seems like the main stream media is picking up on this idiocy, giving it a kind of credence it doesn't begin to deserve.

I just want to say to all my friends who are not Christians that these sleaze bags don't speak for me.

All this hatred being spewed at this most beautiful time of the year is particulalry disturbing, but then hatred is the only currency these freaks understand. That's how they got their stooge Bush into the White House and that's how they got this nation into that disaster in Iraq.

So I wish all a happy holiday, whether that be Christmas, Chanukah, Kwanzaa,Ramadan, some Druid shingid, or any other event that I might have missed. Or if you just like to sing carols and savor the smell of Christmas trees in the morning, enjoy.

And to all a good night.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Jealous Guy

How could it be that 25 years have passed since John Lennon was killed?

It's hard to believe such much time has slipped away, and even harder to believe this terrible thing happened in the first place.

The newspapers, TV shows and God knows how many web sites are filled with Lennon memorials and I've decided I'm going to join the chorus.

John Lennon's Imagine was the first album I ever bought in my life. I was at a record store in the King's Plaza shopping center and the album was playing over the sound system. I pretended to look for records (remember those?) while listening to track after track.

When I finally decided that this album was worth the investment, I dug into my pocket, paid something like five bucks and walked out with my very own record. The album came with a poster of John Lennon playing a piano outdoors--was it the Central Park bandshell?

Honestly, I don't remember and I have no idea what happened to that poster. I do remember my freshman high school English teacher had taped it up in his class, which was pretty cool.

I think my favorite cut was "Jealous Guy" a slow, somber apology where Lennon just hung his imperfections out for the world to see.

Like a lot things in my life, I didn't appreciate John Lennon until he was gone. I remember sitting in my living room and switching on the 11 o'clock news. The reporter was interviewing a couple who had witnessed something, but this was before the Internet so I had no idea what they were talking about.

"I saw them carry him into the ambulance," the man was saying. "There was blood coming out of his mouth..."

When I found out it was John Lennon, I was in shock. Who would want to shoot him? He just put out a record and was giving interviews, where he sounded like he was actually happy for the first time in his life.

The next morning the whole wave of emotion came out the radio and TV. In the days that followed I couldn't think about much else.

Crippled Inside

People were actually killing themselves over Lennon's death and I remember a Daily News headline that read "Yoko Pleads: Stop the Suicides!" My God, what a bizarre time. People felt like they had been cut adrift and some of them couldn't handle it.

I think the worst thing was the way in which it had happened. This was a murder, an assassination, really. If John Lennon had keeled over from a heart attack or had died in a car crash, I would have had a little easier time with it.

But for some misbegotten freak to fly halfway around the globe and gun him down like an animal, that just destroyed me. It was obscene, the way he died, and a quarter century's passing hasn't reduced that pain.

Yeah, I grew up with the Beatles, like millions of other people. I remember seeing them on the Ed Sullivan Show, I remember my dad (I think it was him...) bringing home a 45 of "She Loves You" and me and my siblings hopped all around the livingroom to this wild new music.

I remember seeing "Help!" in the Loew's Alpine around the corner from my house. That was back when the Alpine was a single theater, before they split it into four little shoeboxes, and now they're closing the thing down all together. Nothing is permanent, no matter how much we want it to be.

The world has changed so much since that night in December and not for the better. I know I'm sounding like a geezer mooning over the good old days, but back then we were never worried about people crashing airplanes into buildings.

Yes, the cold war was still on, but I tell you, I never worried much about being nuked, because I figured, maybe naively, there were enough normal people on both sides of the equation to keep us from destroying the planet.That's all gone now. Whatever passes for "normal" has been erased and it seems the more extreme behavior the higher you go in this depraved new world.

Mike Malloy's show is coming on now and he's starting off with "Imagine." It actually hurts to hear that fabulous voice and recall how it was so brutally silenced.

We're going to have to keep on imagining, imagining all the people living life in peace, and the brotherhood of man and no hell below us. We've got a long way to go.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

The Auntie Vanishes

My aunt pulled a disappearing act last week that would have made Houdini jealous.

I call my aunt every morning from work to see how she's doing. She's my mom's sister and a few years ago she lost both my mom and her husband in less than a year.

She lives in Manhattan and several days a week she'd go downtown, take the ferry out to Staten Island and visit my mom in the nursing home. Then she'd go home and take care of her husband, who was dying from cancer. I don't know how she did it.

When these two people she loved so dearly died within such a short period of time, my aunt had a terrible gap in her life. I started calling her daily to see how she was doing and I think I wanted to stay "in touch" with my mom in a way.

Obviously they're two different people, with two distinct personalities, but she's still my mom's sister. And, in better times, she and my mom used to speak to each other on the phone every day.

So I feel like I'm keeping up a tradition and checking up on my aunt, who is healthy (Thank God!) but still in her seventies. If either one of us knows we won't be around in the morning, we tell the other one ahead of time so no one gets worried. Simple, no?

Last Wednesday I came into work as usual, called my aunt and got the answering service. Fine. She went somewhere and forgot to tell me. It happens, nothing to worry about.

I called her again an hour later and get the answering service again. And then again. By early afternoon I left her a message saying, "I am now officially worried, please call me back."

This happened to be one of the few nights where I didn't have to go anywhere after work. I could leave the office and go straight the hell home. Some days that's all I need to be happy.

But now with this busines, I was getting all sorts of horrible images bouncing around in my head. I pictured my aunt slumped in the shower, I imagined her laid up in a hospital bed, the victim of a terrible accident or even worse crime. And I wasn't around to protect her.

I called her apartment building's front desk and they told me they hadn't see her. They promised to have her call me the next time they saw her. If you see her, I added in my fevered brain.

At 4:30 p.m., I still hadn't heard from my aunt and so I left one more message: I'm coming up to your place. If you get this message before 5 p.m. please call me and save me a trip uptown.

Going Uptown

That sounds pretty selfish now that I'm reading it, but I was tired and my aunt's apartment was in the exact opposite direction I wanted to go.

I got to her place at about 5:20 p.m. and I was sick to my stomach. The nightmare pictures started flashing through my head faster, with more detail. I picture myself shouting for help, dialing 911 on my cell phone and screaming for an ambulance.

The doorman called upstairs and told her I was on the way up. That meant she wasn't in a coma, she hadn't been kidnapped by terrorists or renditioned off to Cairo by a squadron of black ops. She was home having dinner with her friend.

She was waiting in the hallway for me when I got off the elevator and I had the dual urge to hug her until her ribs ached and shriek "why the hell didn't you call me?!?" at the top of my voice.

God knows I got that when I was a kid. If my parents couldn't find me they'd hit that panic button with reckless abandon. And when I finally got home they'd shout at me so much I wasn't sure if they were really glad to see me.

It turns out my aunt hadn't checked her messages, something she's done, or failed to do, in the past. That's hardly a crime and I was so happy to see her safe, I didn't care about the uptown detour. I didn't notice how upset I was until the danger had passed and the knots in my stomach uncoiled.

My aunt apologized profusely and she also thanked me for caring enough to check up on her. That last bit made my little ego feel good. Yes, she is lucky to have me, isn't she?

Before my mom entered the hospital, never to return, we tried to take care of her at home. I remember one time helping her into bed and she looked at me with these beautiful brown eyes and said softly, "good boy."

Good boy. Actually I was a middle-aged teen-ager with a rather spotty employment record and an even more dubious future. But to my mom I was a good boy doing the right thing for her. I wish I could hear her say it one more time.

I realize I'm never going to stop worrying about my family or anything else for that matter. The panic button has been handed down to me like the Olympic torch and I'll keep hitting it at the slightest provocation.

I know worry is useless and it gives you a false sense of control, but I can't help myself. There's too much grief going on in the world to assume it can't reach your door. All you can do is pray and hope your relatives pick up the damn phone.